Pommery in Reims. The tour in the Pommery cave was very interesting, even though it was in French. We learned about the three grapes used to make champagne (chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier), how the grapes are pressed and fermented, and how the the second fermentation takes place inside the champagne bottle. We got to see the pictured 'Champagne Library', where they keep bottles from every year of production. In this photo you can see bottles as old as 1898! We tasted 5 different Pommery champagnes (on a side note, I need to explain the grading system we used throughout the trip for all of the champagne we tasted. We used the Danish academic grading scale, which is a 7-point scale from -3 to 12 (yeah, I know, it makes no sense), with the following grades possible: -3, 00, 02, 04, 07, 10, and 12. In Denmark, a 02 is passing, so only -3 and 00 are 'bad' grades). Here are the five champagnes we tasted, the grapes used (if known) and their Danish grades:
Brut Royal - 1/3 of each grape - 02
Prestie - 04
Millésimé 2005 - 07
Wintertime - 10
Apanage Rosé - 04
Eveil des Sens, we rested up for the start of the biking adventure. The next day we left Reims and headed towards Tours-sur-Marne, about 50 km away. Along the way we stopped in the town of Verzenay and visited the champagne museum placed inside the Phare de Verzenay (the lighthouse of Verzenay). It was at the museum that we really learned about the process of growing, picking, making, and selling champagne. In the photo, you can see a vineyard with a windmill on top. Notice how the windmill is on top of a small hill? Well, this 'small hill' did not feel so small on a bike, and it was just a taste of what was to come in the days ahead! It turns out the Champagne region is not nice and flat, but rather hilly. In fact, the vines are only grown on inclines... all of the valleys are planted with wheat and vegetables!
David Léclapart. David is a brilliant guy: all of his champagnes are organic (and most are biodynamic), he runs the entire operation by himself, and he makes the most amazing champagne. He is also an incredibly friendly and generous guy. He took two hours out of his day to give us a tour and tasting. He drove us to his vines and explained the entire process of growing them, picking them, and the affect of the different terroirs.
L'amateur 2010 - 100% tank ages - 10
Artiste 2009 - 1/2 tank aged, 1/2 oak ages - 12 (the top grade!)
L'apôtre 2008 - 100% oak aged - 10
Mercier. Though Mercier made our least favorite champagne, they had the most impressive cave. Over 18 km of underground tunnels hold the Mercier champagnes. Eugène Mercier, who founded the champagne house in 1871, was a really interesting guy (and slightly crazy); he wanted to make the cave an enjoyable work place, so he hired an artist to create frescoes throughout the tunnels. We tasted one champagne:
Brut - 45% pinot noir, 45% pinot meunier, 10% chardonnay - 04
Moët et Chandon/Dom Perignon. Founded by Claude Moët in 1743, Moët is the biggest producer of champagne in the world. Their cave stretches for an impressive 23 km, making it the biggest cave in the entire Champagne region.
Imperial - 1/3 of each grape - 04
2006 Vintage - 42% chardonnay, 39% pinot noir, 19% pinot meunier - 10
2004 Rosé Vintage - 45% pinot noir, 35% chardonnay, 20% pinot meunier - 07
Hostellerie La Briqueterie, we headed to bed at our Epernay B&B, Parva Domus (which I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Epernay - the older couple that run it are very sweet, the B&B is fantastic, and the location can't be beat). The next morning we were back on our bikes for another 40+ km day. We headed towards the town of Vertus, but on the way we stopped at the champagne house Launois Pére et Fils. Founded in 1872, this champagne house is now run by three sisters. The old family home now hosts tasting, and filled with... well, old family stuff. It was really interesting to look around after our tasting. We tasted the following four champagnes:
Reserve - 100% chardonnay - 07+
Veuve Clemence - 100% chardonnay - 07+
Dorine - 100% chardonnay - 10
Oeil de Perdrix - 100% pinot noir - 07 (I personally really liked this one and would have given it a 10, but was over-ruled by the boys).
After our scary lunch, we did two tastings at different champagne houses in Vertus:
Doyard, which is also a B&B and where we spent the night:
Premier Cru - 100% chardonnay, 30% aged in oak - 04
Grand Cru 2007 - 100% chardonnay, 100% aged in oak - 04
André Jacquart, which has only 100% chardonnay and is 100% aged in oak:
Brut Expérience - 04
Mesnil Expérience (0 dosage, which means no added sugar after the second fermentation) - 07+
Mesnil Expérience (with dosage) - 07
2006 Expérience Millésimé (0 dosage) - 07
2006 Expérience Millésimé (with dosage) - 07+
Rosé de Saignée - 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay, and really beautiful raspberry red color - 07+
Charlier et Fils:
Brut (carte noir) - 60% meunier, 20% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay, 100% oak aged - 07
After the tasting, we headed to our B&B, Moulin de l'Etang. This is another place I'd gladly stay at again. The owners of the B&B were very lively and fun, the house itself was beautiful and filled with lots of great art, and the land surrounding the house was beautiful. There was a very large pond with lots of geese and ducks, plus horses, dogs, and cats around the property.
Moussé et Fils. Moussé was my second favorite champagne maker that we visited. We met Cédric Moussé, a fourth generation champagne maker. The Moussé family has an interesting and sad story: the family has been in the region since the 1600s, and in the 1800s started growing their own grapes and selling them to larger producers. In the 1920s, Eugène Moussé (the great-grandfather of Cédric) started to make his own champagne from his grapes. At the outbreak of World World II, he and his son Edmond were sent to a concentration camp, were Eugène was killed. Fortunately Edmond survived the concentration camp, returned home, and continued the tradition of champagne making. We met with Cédric, who was kind enough to show us his facilities. In this photo you can see the very modern press Moussé uses to extract juice from the grapes.
After visiting his facilities, Cédric gave us a tasting:
Rosé - 92% meunier - 10
Cuvée Or Tradition - 80% pinot meunier, 20% pinot noir, organic - 7+
Vintage 2009 - 95% pinot meunier, 5% pinot noir - 10+
We really loved the Moussé champagnes, and it was the first champagne we encountered with such a high percentage of pinot meunier. Moussé makes a 100% pinot meunier, but it's a very special bottle and sells out almost before it's even made! Luckily, we have the contact of the importer in Denmark and they have a few bottles of the 100% pinot meunier.
Taittinger. In their cave they have many different bottle sizes aging, including the pictured Nebuchadnessar bottles, which hold the equivalent of 20 normal bottles! You can see in the picture that these bottles are wrapped in plastic. As the champagne goes through its second fermentation in the bottle, a lot of gas builds up. Around 1 in 10.000 bottles explodes from the built up pressure. For normal sized bottles, the explosion isn't too serious, but when a larger bottle like a Nebachadnezzar explodes, it can set off a chain reaction and cause the surrounding bottles to explode as well! So the larger bottles are wrapped in plastic to minimize the damage and prevent a chain reaction from starting.
Brut Reserve - 40% chardonnay, 35% pinot noir, 25% pinot meunier - 04
After the tasting, we had an excellent meal at Le Millenaire, which was a great way to finish an absolutely amazing trip. Thank you Bob, Thomas, and Thomas for helping me ring in 30 in the best way possible!